Dive Brief:

  • A new study published in JAMA Network found that each 12-ounce daily serving of fruit juice is associated with a 24% higher mortality risk. Juice was more hazardous than other sweet drinks, researchers discovered. Each 12-ounce daily serving of sugar-sweetened beverages — like soda and non-juice drinks — was linked to an 11% higher mortality risk.
  • Researchers could not make similar connections between sugary beverage consumption and death from coronary heart disease, saying longer-term research was needed to draw any sort of conclusion.
  • The study was conducted by researchers from Cornell University, Emory University and the University of Alabama who observed 13,440 adults 45 and older for an average of six years. The data was analyzed from November 2017 to December 2018. 

Dive Insight:

This is the latest study that warns against the potential dangers of juices and sugary drinks. The American Academy of Pediatrics already recommends children younger than 1 not be given fruit juice because of its high sugar content. Also, recent Consumer Reports tests showed elevated levels of heavy metals in 21 of 45 different juices tested.

Consumers have become more concerned about sugar consumption in recent years, and this study validates their apprehension. According to this study, the nutrient content of 100% fruit juices and sugar-sweetened beverages is very similar. While juice has vitamins and phytonutrients that sugar-sweetened beverages don’t, sugar and water are the main ingredients in both, and the biochemical response when they are metabolized is the same. Linking both juices and sugary beverages to increased risk of death is a way to worry both consumers and the juice industry.

The study used data from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study, which enrolled participants from 2003 to 2007 and conducted follow-ups every six months through 2013. The research pointed out the study’s strengths and weaknesses. While the data from the REGARDS study used a validated dietary assessment instrument, breaking out this part of the study included only a small number of participants who died during the relatively short follow-up period. The data was also limited by participants reporting their own beverage consumption — and their inability to estimate how much they drank of all types of sugary beverages, including sweetened teas.

The industry has already started to come out against the results. The Florida Department of Citrus, a state agency that oversees marketing, research and regulation of the state’s citrus fruits, found several limitations, according to Food Business News. The agency said the group studied was rather homogenous, being mainly white men who were obese and overweight. The study focused on 12-ounce servings, while consumers looking at 100% fruit juice labels see information broken down for 8-ounce servings. The dietary data was also only collected once.

The department also noted that other research has shown no association between drinking 100% orange juice and health problems such as being overweight or obese, and orange juice provides vitamins and minerals.

“Suggesting that a higher consumption of 100% fruit juice is associated with an increase in all causes of mortality without acknowledging the limitations of the study leads to confusion and conflicting messages for consumers,” the department told Food Business News

Different study results and interpretations could confuse consumers who prefer healthier beverages and aren’t clear whether fruit juice fits the bill. It may help them figure it out when the FDA’s added sugar information requirements on Nutrition Facts panels officially kicks in, or if the agency ever redefines what the term “healthy” means. However, those won’t be perfect measures either, since 100% juice will still have a high sugar content, but no added sugars.

While research like this can inspire reformulation, there’s not much that 100% juice products can do to change. If more in the juice industry agree with the shortcomings called out by the Florida Department of Citrus, it may make sense for researchers and industry to quickly put together another study specifically targeting juice’s impact on health before this report can do much damage to the total market.

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